For a variety of reasons the frequency of bullshit stories that pertain to book publishing is on the rise this fall (a big merger-in-the-works like Penguin Random House will do that, though it’s far from the only thing.) The proliferation of these pieces seemed to me a good time to list a few things* that are critical and vital components to what makes the industry work the way it does but that the uninformed and unlightened (reporters, pundits, well-meaning people) aren’t parsing or probably not really thinking about very much.
1. Contracts. At least 90 percent of whatever appears to be “wrong” in anyone’s worldview is because of contracts and what they stipulate or what they don’t. Don’t know why you can’t get an ebook in the country you live in? Contracts. Whine about only having a handful of images available to you for free? Contracts. Want to buy a book by your favorite author sooner but you can’t? Upset that a publisher isn’t providing ebooks to the public library, or asks those libraries to pay exorbitant rates. Contracts. I could go on and on and on.
2. Lawyers. Part of “contracts” but also involved in large-scale things like lawsuits, copyright enforcement, mergers, spinoffs, selloffs, etc.
3. Permissions. Also part of “contracts” (notice a theme here?) I’ve spent the bulk of this year dealing with permissions to reprint previously published stories for my forthcoming anthology. It was both great fun, from a sleuthing standpoint, and at times it’s made me want to bang my head against the wall. But I respect the hell out of those who run permissions departments for publishers and agencies. It’s insanely time-consuming. It’s massively inefficient and the whole enterprise needs to be overhauled. But: if you wonder why a certain poem or song fragment or story wasn’t reprinted or published, it’s probably because the going rate was too expensive for the budget. And this stuff isn’t free (and generally shouldn’t be.)
4. Operations. The longer I cover publishing the more I realize that the really critical things have nothing to do with what I’ve long termed the book trade’s “axis of glamor”, i.e. agents/editors/authors/booksellers/readers. It’s the warehouse people. The distribution department. Permissions. Contracts people. Production departments, especially those who have to convert print books into digital editions. IT. Finance types at the corporate level (but also making sure the P&Ls work.) For example: understandably, most everyone is concerned about how the Penguin Random House merger will affect editorial imprints and acquisitions. It will. But not till almost *all* of the backend stuff is dealt with and streamlined accordingly. And that will require much more pain and cost-cutting from the company standpoint.
5. Yeah, contracts again. But this time related to why self-publishing works for some but not others, why an agent is more valuable than ever, why “World English” rights includes different countries for different publishers, why sometimes it’s better to take the two-book deal, why crappy books get published, or why good books get published later than everyone might want, and so forth. Contracts are good things. But only after there’s been a great deal of negotiation.
*Oh, who am I kidding. This is a full-fledged rant.